Astrid Bovell on April 19th, 2012
When you work in a copyright related role, the words “in the public domain” can bring you joy or despair depending on when and how that the term is used.
When something is ‘in the public domain’ it means that the copyright or ownership of intellectual property in that material has either expired or the ownership of those rights has been waived by the creator. If the copyright has expired or has been waived by the creator, then this material is in the public domain meaning the public is free to use it. When you work in copyright and you want to use something and you find it’s in the public domain, there’s a lot of joy in that….
Over time, the term ‘public domain’ has begun to be adopted in common language to mean – freely accessible to the public. This is a problem for those of us in copyright roles because public access to something, doesn’t equate to the public being able to use that something without worrying about the copyright. It is unfortunately common to ask someone about an image they’re using and whether they sought permission and hear them respond with “It’s okay, I found it on the internet so it’s in the public domain” – this is when those words bring up despair.
So to avoid falling into this trap of this incorrect adoption let’s get this clear:
Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting The Last Supper (left) is OUT OF COPYRIGHT and IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN. It is freely accessible and freely available for use.
The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci sourced fromWikimedia Commons
Wheras, this is Jon English’s Last Supper in South Park.
It is very much IN COPYRIGHT and NOT IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN. It is freely accessible, you can view it through his online Gallery, but it is NOT IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN! You need permission to use it outside of the ways allowed in the Copyright Act.
Last Supper in South Park by Ron English
(Copyright Ron English. All Rights Reserved)